By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS – Not long after Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State in 2012 he famously referred to the Buckeyes’ offense as “a clown show.”
And not having a returning receiver with more than 14 catches in 2011 was probably a big part of that biting assessment.
Judging by how Ohio State has survived the loss of five receivers to injuries for all or part of this season, it’s obvious recruiting receivers has been emphasized in Meyer’s four seasons at OSU.
Since the final week of preseason practice, the Buckeyes have lost Noah Brown (broken leg) and Corey Brown (broken leg) for the season and Dontre Wilson (foot), Johnnie Dixon (knee tendinitis) and Parris Campbell (knee sprain) for much of the season.
Brown, a sophomore who was expected to have a breakout season, was injured just days before the start of the season. Smith, a senior, went down in the fifth game of the season at Indiana.
Most of the rest of the units on offense and defense for OSU have been able to avoid injuries. But the receivers group has been hit hard.
“Probably about the time Corey broke his leg, it was like, ‘Man, we must not be living right or something,’ ” receivers coach Zach Smith said, with a laugh, on Monday.
“It’s been devastating. I want those kids out there. Obviously, we could use them. But we’ll be all right.
“It’s been devastating but at the same time we’re in a position where we lost five of our top nine wideouts and at most schools, probably every other school in the country, that would be disabling. But for us, we have such depth and so much confidence in the guys who are healthy that we haven’t really missed a beat,” he said.
With that depleted receivers corps, Ohio State ranks eleventh in the Big Ten in pass receptions but is tied for third in touchdown catches going into Saturday’s game at Illinois.
It’s the same story in the individual statistics, where OSU leader Michael Thomas’ 39 catches are far behind the 62 catches of Big Ten leader Aaron Burbridge, of Michigan State, but Thomas’ seven touchdowns leads the conference.
“I’m very pleased with how they’re playing,” Smith said. “Guys like Mike Thomas are doing everything I’m asking them to do and then some.
Jalin Marshall (23 catches, 357 yards, 3 TDs) and Braxton Miller (20 catches, 235 yards, 3 TDs) have been the top targets after Thomas.
“With the guys we’re recruiting now, the guys we have recruited and the young guys who are being developed now, I don’t see us taking a step backward in the near future. I’m really excited to see some of these guys get their opportunity in the future. And the guys who are injured, I already know what they can do when they come back,” he said.
Smith said OSU is being cautious with players like Wilson, Dixon and Campbell.
“Dontre’s foot has been bothering him. We don’t want to re-injure it. It’s nothing new really. We’re just being kind of tentative because once it’s healed we want it to be healed forever.
“Johnnie has a knee. He had stuff in there. I’m not a doctor but he had a procedure a while ago to get it cleaned out. We just have to make sure it doesn’t come back,” he said.
BARRETT’S DAY IN COURT: Quarterback J.T. was fined $400, had his driver’s license suspended for 180 days and was ordered to attend a three-day alcohol education program after pleading guilty on Tuesday to operating a vehicle while impaired on Oct. 31.
Barrett read a short statement in court in which he apologized to “the Ohio State football program and Buckeye nation.”
SCHUTT READY TO RETURN?: Defensive tackle Tommy Schutt is listed as a possible starter on OSU’s depth chart after missing games against Rutgers and Minnesota because of wrist surgery.
BELL PLAYER OF WEEK: Safety Vonn Bell was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after having an interception for a touchdown and 10 tackles in a 28-14 win over Minnesota last Saturday.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.